When a Sarawak state cabinet minister said his state does not need any law on race relations, Malaysians originating from states in the peninsula might have thought the minister was joking.

But those who know Sarawak and, by the same token, Sabah well, either through having worked or stayed there for a prolonged period could vouch that Datuk Seri Awang Tengah Ali Hassan was giving an honest assessment of race relations in the two states.

“This is because there has been racial tolerance among the people for a very long time.

“Other than the Malays, Chinese and Indians, Sarawak has 33 ethnic groups, and we have been living peacefully together even before independence. I think there is no point in having such a law and we don’t need it,” said Awang Tengah on Friday, matter-of-factly.

He was responding to an announcement earlier in the week that the government would come up with a Race Relations Act aimed at strengthening ties among the different races.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar said Malaysia had to cope with racial problems despite having achieved independence 51 years ago.

Whether the proposed Act is really necessary or not is still debatable but the fact is that it is being drafted soon after an alleged racist remark by an Umno divisional leader in Penang. This led to strained relations between Umno and some non-Malay component parties in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN).

Datuk Ahmad Ismail had triggered a rise in temperature in race relations for days on end this month when he said the Chinese are squatters and undeserving of equal rights.

Now, why is race relations still an issue in Peninsular Malaysia and as Awang Tengah said, not in Sarawak?

To begin with, no politician in Sarawak and Sabah as well, would even consider raising what Ahmad did. BERNAMA